If you recall, SpaceX’s last two attempts to land its Falcon 9 at sea resulted into spectacular fireballs. In both instances, the Falcon 9 made it to the platform, but failed to land upright and intact. However, SpaceX hopes that the third time will be a charm when a Falcon 9 rocket blasts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base on January 17th. After the Falcon 9 delivers a NASA satellite into orbit, it will perform a somersault, head back to Earth and make a powered landing on a floating platform positioned in the Pacific Ocean.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 makes a landing approach before "falcon punching" the floating barge in April
SpaceX’s main goal is to make it more affordable to launch payloads into space. And if SpaceX can promise cheaper flight into space for its customers, it stands to have a significant advantage over its competition. Instead of tossing away its $61 million first-stage Dragon 9 booster after every flight, it will simply need to pay for $200,000 in refueling costs (and other ancillary costs related to refurbishing the Falcon 9 for flight) to prep it for the next mission.
"With reusable rockets, we can reduce the cost of access to space by probably two orders of magnitude,” said SpaceX CEO Elon Musk at the American Geophysical Union conference in December.
SpaceX's successful landing in December
SpaceX is not alone in the new “space race” towards the use of reusable rockets. Blue Origin, a space company that is helmed by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, successfully blasted its New Shepard space launch system into space, and landed its BE-3 rocket engine back to Earth. But whereas SpaceX has a slew of commercial and government contracts booked to haul satellites into orbit (SpaceX currently has 60 missions booked), Blue Origin is focused on sending paying civilians into space to experience brief moments of weightlessness.